Friday, August 12, 2022

Emergency Declaration: The Korean Airplane Outbreak

Technically, aviation writer John J. Nance already combined the viral-thriller with the airline disaster genre back in the mid-1990s, but maybe the novel Pandora's Clock and its subsequent TV-movie never made it to South Korea. Regardless, the Macguffin certainly has a whole lot more resonance now. Yet, pre-production started on the high-concept Korean thriller back in idyllic 2019. Weren’t those the days. As it turns out, this virus might have also escaped from a lab, with a little help from a psychotic in Han Jae-rim’s Emergency Declaration, which opens today in New York.

Sgt. Koo In-ho was supposed to join his beloved wife on vacation, but work forced him to cancel. As it happens, she is on the same Honolulu-bound flight with Ryu Jin-seok, a former virologist with a vicious mean-streak and a tenuous grasp on reality. He has decided to let loose a strain of secret virus he has been illegally refining and intensifying. Conveniently, there is also a spare pilot on-board, but like Robert Hays in
Airplane! he carries much more baggage than the bags he checked. The disgraced Jae-hyuk is also traveling with his pre-teen daughter, to further ratchet up the stakes for him.

Due to some old-fashioned police work, Koo manages to sleuth out Ryu’s intentions before chaos totally erupts on the plane, but after the release of the viral agent. Naturally, the captain is one of the first to fall sick. It seems pretty clear co-pilot Hyun-soo will be needing Jae-hyuk eventually, but he still blames the former pilot for his wife’s death.

So, there is a lot to deal with here. Sook-hee, the transportation minister will generally be helpful, but Tae-su of the president’s crisis management team is obviously shifty. Altogether,
Emergency Dec has everything an Airport movie could want, except George Kennedy. Han dexterously juggles all the subplots and keeps the tension tightly wound. Since this is a Korean film, the suspense is particularly high, because you never know, this really could all end in tears.

Like the original
Airport, Emergency Dec is similarly loaded with famous thesps, including Song Kang-ho (from Parasite) and Lee Byung-hun (from Squid Games and I Saw the Devil) as the good guys. Song is uncharacteristically understated, but quite effective as Koo, while Lee is even more compelling as the guilt-wracked pilot. Yim Si-wan is creepy and clammy as the mad scientist, but Han arguably denies him sufficient time to develop a full portrait of villainy.

Fans of Korean films will not be surprised
Emergency Dec runs almost two and a half hours. To his credit, Han never lets one minute slacken, which makes it an impressive and exhausting (generally in the right way) ride. It will not get much love from the airline industry, but it represents another slickly executed Korean disaster movie, much like Exit, Tunnel, and The Tower. Recommended to anyone who won’t be flying over the next two or three months, Emergency Declaration opens today (8/12) in New York, at the AMC Empire.